We Can't Backtrack on the Bay!
I get more dressed up to go to work this time of year. The Maryland General Assembly is in session. And this year I also feel like I'm dressing up for battle.
The legislature opened January 14. Many of the legislators are new this year. So is our governor. That could make our job dramatically more difficult. So could the state's difficult finances.
Before taking office, Governor Hogan vowed to roll back progress on two of our most important issues. In the first hours of his administration, he killed a 10-year effort to reduce over-application of manure on farm fields. He has also said he will repeal a 2012 law that requires the state's ten most populated counties to establish local, dedicated funding to reduce harmful polluted runoff.
You were instrumental in convincing the legislature that funding dedicated to stop local polluted runoff was critical. You also helped us fight off numerous attempts to repeal the law in both the 2013 and 2014 sessions. The law doesn't tax the rain, as some opponents have alleged.
But in the last two weeks, Harford County repealed its entire Watershed Protection and Restoration Program, in violation of state law, getting rid of those dedicated funds to clean up polluted runoff in county waters. Then, Baltimore County Executive Kevin Kamenetz proposed reducing the county's dedicated funds to clean up polluted runoff and delaying the 2025 deadline for meeting commitments to restore clean water across Maryland and the Bay.
Polluted runoff is the main source of water pollution in most of Maryland's urban and suburban rivers and creeks. And these dedicated funds are working to fix the problem. We simply can't backtrack on the progress we've already made to clean up this dirty water.
Just as residents in our towns and cities are doing more to help clean our water, farmers need to do more as well. One major problem is chicken growers spread 228,000 excess tons of manure on crop fields per year, according to the Maryland Department of Agriculture. The excess ends up in nearby creeks and rivers. The phosphorus in the manure is a major reason so many waterbodies on the Eastern Shore, and the Chesapeake Bay, are polluted. Farmers aren't polluting intentionally; they simply lack a method to determine the right amount of manure to apply to crops.
After 10 years of study, scientists at the University of Maryland finally came up with just such a method. Five years ago Maryland committed to implementing the method as a regulation. The rule was delayed for two years by agricultural lobbyists worried about the costs of implementation, but finally submitted by the O'Malley Administration late last year.
Now Governor Hogan has stymied the proposed solution to our manure crisis.
If the governor won't support a manure solution, the legislature can pass a law to accomplish the same end. But getting the votes for such legislation will be challenging. Beating back attempts to repeal the stormwater fee law also could prove difficult.
Maryland finances present another serious challenge this year. The state recently enacted a two percent across-the-board cut to all agency budgets for the current fiscal year. And Governor Hogan's budget for the next fiscal year is also tight, although his proposed cuts seem equitable and fair. Now we must ensure that the General Assembly does not divert any more funding from our dedicated environmental funds during the legislative review process. We will be fighting hard to protect clean water program funding.
Please contact your state legislators and remind them that Maryland has committed to make steady, measurable progress on clean water restoration under the Chesapeake Clean Water Blueprint. We can't backtrack on the Bay! We must continue—indeed, accelerate—efforts to reduce urban, suburban, and agricultural polluted runoff.
Water quality improved 10 percent in the past two years. The Blueprint is working, but progress will continue only if we all do our part. Thank you ever so much for your help this session.
Maryland Executive Director
Chesapeake Bay Foundation